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Overmarinating - Is there such a thing?

Can you marinate meat for too long?

I'm considering marinating a flank steak for grilling tomorrow, but there is a chance I won't be able to cook it until Tuesday...

Go for it, or Wait?

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  1. Depends on what your marinade is. Some marinades say to go for up to 24 or even 48 hours, others less than two hours. If there is a high salt or acidic content you may want to wait.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hannaone

      Keslacye, you can overmarinate--that is, overtenderize to the point where the muscle breaks down and the meat isn't the texture you want. 24 hours is a usual max But in addition to that problem, you have the meat's freshness at stake. Not sure when you're planning to put this on to marinate or when you'll know that it's a no-go, but were I in your shoes and realized as late as say 4:00 tomorrow that I wasn't cooking dinner that night, I'd throw it in the freezer overnight, then move it back to the fridge on Tuesday morning. It will that out slowly during the day and be ready for the grill on Tuesday night, and just as fresh as it would have been Monday night. Great grilled steak either way, and you keep your options open!

    2. Don't know about your particular marinade or meat, but I got a London broil once and marinated it in red wine and herbs for (I think) 24 hours--and it wasn't fit to eat. My first thought was that the meat was bad, but Mike said I had marinated it too long.

      1. The key is what is in the marinade. Too much salt, acid, or alcohol will kill the texture of the meat AND infuse the thing with odd flavors.

        If you stick to spices/herbs (like a rub instead of a marinade) with a low sodium broth as the liquid you can leave the meat in much longer.

        1. Yes, I have a couple of times, you know our plans change at times.
          Soy Sauce will make it way too salty and not edible, and red wine does give it a spoiled taste and smell.

          Dry rubs, I've not experience a problem. It's mainly chicken and beef where I have had it happen.

          1. Thanks for everyone's advice. I guess there can be too much of a good thing.

            I was going to use one of the marinades in last month's Cook's Illustrated. It included soy sauce, fish sauce, oil, fresh garlic, fresh ginger, curry paste, and brown sugar. The instructions said to reserve a quarter cup of the marinade, add some lime juice and vineagar, and to toss it with the meat after it had been cooked. The instructions specify to only marinate it for an hour, but the article made it sound like that was a minimum for people who hadn't thought to do it the night before.

            1 Reply
            1. re: keslacye

              I've made that exact recipe. Do not marinate it for 24 hours - It got way too salty. If you must, cut back the soy sauce and fish sauce by half at least.

              I did make it again properly, and boy, was it great. The curry paste as a marinade was absolutely fantastic.

            2. I usually only marinate flank steak for an hour or two. Same for chicken. Fish only gets a half hour or so. Marinates do not rfeally penetrate below the surface of the meat to be cooked any way. However, marinades that have acid in them will actually change the texture of the outer shell of the meat -- it can break it down and get mushy if left to marinate too long, and you can end up with pretty gross results. The one exception is when I'm making tandoori. Almost all Indian recipes call for marinating overnight in the yogurt marinate and I have done this with no bad results, although I'm not sure why. Perhaps Alton Brown has an answer. I will never buy anything pre-marinated from a store, however, because I don't know how long it's been sitting there.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Ellen

                I have marinated london broil overnight, with good results. I don't marinate fish too long- and if there is a lot of acid in the fish marinade, the fish will actually start to "cook" ( think cerviche- I marinated some lamb overnight in fage yogurt and lots of garlic, and the texture was fine- and the meat so tender. Like you, I never buy premarinated meats for a few reasons- not sure if the marinade will be as good as homemade, and maybe I am a pessimist, but I always think the store uses its worst pieces of meat to hide in the marinade. This is probably not true, but it worries me just the same!

                1. re: Ellen

                  "Perhaps Alton Brown has an answer"

                  Shirley Corriher has the answer in this article in which she declares that marinades do not tenderize but only add flavor -- the exception being dairy-based marinades: http://www.taunton.com/finecooking/ar...?

                  I marinate my Beef Bourguignon up to 24 hours in red wine and it's fabulous, but I wouldn't go any longer than that.

                  1. re: Ellen

                    I'd have to disagree. Marinades penetrate into the meat--I made coq au vin, marinated it two days I think, and the chicken meat was a vivid purple all the way through. This long marinade worked, however, it may not always be the case. The OP is probably better off marinating for a shorter time rather than longer.

                  2. Absolutely!! However, those upstate New Yorkers who love their spiedies may beg to differ.